Features 26 Mar 2020

Industry: Motorcycling Australia’s Peter Doyle

MA CEO on how the coronavirus crisis is affecting motorcycle sport.

Words: Simon Makker

When Peter Doyle stepped into the role of Motorcycling Australia (MA) CEO three and a half years ago, he proved he wasn’t afraid of a challenge. Now, with the current situation that Australia – and sport in general – faces with the coronavirus pandemic, Doyle is on the frontline of the industry’s toughest battle yet. MotoOnline caught up with him to find out how much of an impact COVID-19 is having on race calendars, the organisation and motorcycling as a whole.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Peter, no doubt the past couple of months have been a crazy, frustrating and anxious time for you and Motorcycling Australia staff. How has everyone been holding up so far?

Staff morale and the mood in the office is actually reasonably good considering the circumstances. There’s a fair bit of anxiety about what happens in the next two months and everyone’s hopeful this will blow over by the end of May. We have a plan until then, but we’re in the hands of the regulators as far as what they decide to do. Things are constantly changing from a national standpoint; none of our events can comply with local legislation from a population restriction point of view, so we have no choice but to postpone or cancel events. Some state activity – small, regional club level social ride days where there are 20-30 riders – is still taking place, but it’s very slow and also shrinking.

This situation has some pretty major potential financial implications for MA. How are you dealing with those and what plans are in place?

Natural cost-cutting is happening. Two weeks ago we stopped all travel for staff, board and managers and everything’s being done by video and teleconferencing. We’re cutting expenditure and staff are encouraged to take holidays early, which reduces numbers in the office. Looking at the rest of the world, you’d have to be mad to say ‘this isn’t going to affect us’. We’re taking steps already and they’re reviewed almost daily against what we receive from the regulators

With the ASBK, it looks like you’re now targeting the Morgan Park round in August for round two. Are you looking to add some of those earlier postponed rounds to the end of the calendar?

We’re working on an alternative date for the Wakefield Park round that was postponed, but road racing is tough as so many of the tracks are booked up and finding alternative dates is a problem. We’ve got a couple of options we’re looking at, but I’d envisage the ASBK will have to run into November. In the best-case scenario we lose one round and in the worst-case we’ll lose two. Considering the current situation, it’s not looking too bad.

Are there any plans in the pipeline to provide compassionate considerations or licence extensions to riders who’ve been affected by this situation and haven’t been able to take part in any events?

Once we know the full extent of what’s going on, that will be discussed. It’s difficult right now to give everyone a one-month extension, then find out that it’ll have to be three months. There’re so many factors we have to work through, such as the type of licence and when they were purchased, but it’s been tabled.

Image: Russell Colvin.

Any extensions or compensation would then hit MA’s bottom line then too, though, wouldn’t it?

Yes. No matter what we do, it’s going to cost money. That’s the decision we have to make as a collective group, as a lot of the states’ money comes from licences. So it’s not just MA, it’s the states too and they have a say as well. We’ll have to consider what they want to do.

Personally, if you were going to put a bet on it, how long do you see this current situation lasting?

If I was a betting man, I think we’re looking at somewhere around mid-year, so three to six months before it improves. But I’m not a doctor or health professional and can only go off what we see in other countries. However, we have to be prepared that if they don’t find something to combat this virus, the situation could go on a lot longer.

What do you perceive will be the long-term implications that COVID-19 will have on the sport?

I think motorcycling racing has never faced this type of situation before and it’ll be its toughest challenge by far. There will naturally be cost-reductions in the sport – AFL has laid off 80 per cent of its staff – so you’re almost rebuilding from scratch. If this goes on for six months, it’ll devastate not just motorcycle racing, but every sport. To be honest, I don’t see a recovery in my lifetime. I think, yes, it’ll get better and improve, but to get back to where it is now is a long time away. I’m sure we’ll lose people from the sport who will never come back, so it’ll be a long, slow rebuild.

Is there anything MA can do to help with that rebuild?

Absolutely. We’re going to have to market the sport better and the whole industry needs to be involved. You’d hope we can work closely with the industry – motorcycle manufacturers, distributors and importers here – to work together to rebuild it. What benefits us, benefits them. Everyone plays a part and we will need to band together to help bring motorcycling back from these challenging days.